News/International

Pope Benedict XVI gives Communion to a nun during Easter Mass in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican April 24. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)VATICAN CITY - In an Easter blessing to the world, Pope Benedict XVI prayed that Christ’s resurrection may open paths of “freedom, justice and peace” for troubled populations of the Middle East and Africa.

The Pope urged an end to violence in Libya and Ivory Coast, assistance to refugees flooding out of North Africa and consolation for the victims of the Japanese earthquake. He prayed for those persecuted for their Christian faith, and praised their courage.

He spoke from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica April 24 in his blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city of Rome and to the world), after celebrating Mass for nearly 100,000 people in St. Peter’s Square. Broadcast to many countries and live-streamed on the Internet, it was the last major event on the 84-year-old pontiff’s heavy Holy Week schedule.

Pope Benedict said the resurrection of Christ must not be viewed as “the fruit of speculation or mystical experience.” It happened in a precise moment and marked history forever, giving human events new strength, new hope and new meaning.

Priest offers mediation to dissidents who threaten execution for police

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Members of the Police Service of Northern Ireland carry the casket of officer Ronan Padraig Kerr to the Church of the Immaculate Conception in the village of Beragh April 6. (CNS photo/Cathal McNaughton, Reuters)DERRY, Northern Ireland - A Catholic priest in Northern Ireland has offered to meet dissident Republican paramilitaries who have threatened to “execute” Catholic members of the region’s police service.

The Real IRA — an Irish Republican Army splinter group that opposes the region’s peace process — warned that the Church would be unable to protect Catholic members of the police, whom the paramilitaries branded “traitors.” It comes just three weeks after a Catholic member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland was killed in a terror attack.

In a statement read by a masked man dressed in military fatigues and flanked by other paramilitaries in Derry April 25, the group warned, “Those who think they are serving their community are in fact serving the (British) occupation and will be treated as such. They are as liable for execution as anyone, regardless of their religion, cultural background or motivation,” the statement said.

‘The entire cosmos is rejoicing today’

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Pope Benedict XVI use an incense burner as he leads the Easter Mass in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican April 24, 2011. REUTERS/Max RossiVATICAN CITY — In his Easter “urbi et orbi” blessing to the city of Rome and to the world, Pope Benedict today contrasted the joy and hope brought by Christ’s resurrection with persistent conflicts and other forms of suffering in the world.

In one section of his blessing, he spoke about the need for reconciliation in parts of the Middle East and Africa:

So my message today is intended for everyone, and, as a prophetic proclamation, it is intended especially for peoples and communities who are undergoing a time of suffering, that the Risen Christ may open up for them the path of freedom, justice and peace.

May the Land which was the first to be flooded by the light of the Risen One rejoice. May the splendor of Christ reach the peoples of the Middle East, so that the light of peace and of human dignity may overcome the darkness of division, hate and violence. In the current conflict in Libya, may diplomacy and dialogue take the place of arms and may those who suffer as a result of the conflict be given access to humanitarian aid. In the countries of northern Africa and the Middle East, may all citizens, especially young people, work to promote the common good and to build a society where poverty is defeated and every political choice is inspired by respect for the human person. May help come from all sides to those fleeing conflict and to refugees from various African countries who have been obliged to leave all that is dear to them; may people of good will open their hearts to welcome them, so that the pressing needs of so many brothers and sisters will be met with a concerted response in a spirit of solidarity; and may our words of comfort and appreciation reach all those who make such generous efforts and offer an exemplary witness in this regard.

May peaceful coexistence be restored among the peoples of Ivory Coast, where there is an urgent need to tread the path of reconciliation and pardon, in order to heal the deep wounds caused by the recent violence. May Japan find consolation and hope as it faces the dramatic consequences of the recent earthquake, along with other countries that in recent months have been tested by natural disasters which have sown pain and anguish.

Last night, during a three-hour-long Easter vigil liturgy, the pope baptized six adults from Albania, China, Peru, Russia, Singapore and Switzerland. In a homily, he analyzed why the trajectory of salvation history reaches all the way back to creation — and why environmental responsibility is a Christian duty.

Our profession of faith begins with the words: “We believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth”. If we omit the beginning of the Credo, the whole history of salvation becomes too limited and too small. The Church is not some kind of association that concerns itself with man’s religious needs but is limited to that objective. No, she brings man into contact with God and thus with the source of all things. Therefore we relate to God as Creator, and so we have a responsibility for creation. Our responsibility extends as far as creation because it comes from the Creator. Only because God created everything can he give us life and direct our lives. Life in the Church’s faith involves more than a set of feelings and sentiments and perhaps moral obligations. It embraces man in his entirety, from his origins to his eternal destiny. Only because creation belongs to God can we place ourselves completely in his hands. And only because he is the Creator can he give us life forever. Joy over creation, thanksgiving for creation and responsibility for it all belong together.

The creation account tells us, then, that the world is a product of creative Reason. Hence it tells us that, far from there being an absence of reason and freedom at the origin of all things, the source of everything is creative Reason, love, and freedom. Here we are faced with the ultimate alternative that is at stake in the dispute between faith and unbelief: are irrationality, lack of freedom and pure chance the origin of everything, or are reason, freedom and love at the origin of being? Does the primacy belong to unreason or to reason? This is what everything hinges upon in the final analysis. As believers we answer, with the creation account and with John, that in the beginning is reason. In the beginning is freedom. Hence it is good to be a human person. It is not the case that in the expanding universe, at a late stage, in some tiny corner of the cosmos, there evolved randomly some species of living being capable of reasoning and of trying to find rationality within creation, or to bring rationality into it. If man were merely a random product of evolution in some place on the margins of the universe, then his life would make no sense or might even be a chance of nature. But no, Reason is there at the beginning: creative, divine Reason.

On Good Friday, at the close of the Way of the Cross at Rome’s Colosseum, the pope spoke about the cross as a symbol of love, not of triumph.

This evening, in faith, we have accompanied Jesus as he takes the final steps of his earthly journey, the most painful steps, the steps that lead to Calvary. We have heard the cries of the crowd, the words of condemnation, the insults of the soldiers, the lamentation of the Virgin Mary and of the women. Now we are immersed in the silence of this night, in the silence of the cross, the silence of death. It is a silence pregnant with the burden of pain borne by a man rejected, oppressed, downtrodden, the burden of sin which mars his face, the burden of evil. Tonight we have re-lived, deep within our hearts, the drama of Jesus, weighed down by pain, by evil, by human sin.

What remains now before our eyes? It is a crucified man, a cross raised on Golgotha, a cross which seems a sign of the final defeat of the One who brought light to those immersed in darkness, the One who spoke of the power of forgiveness and of mercy, the One who asked us to believe in God’s infinite love for each human person. Despised and rejected by men, there stands before us “a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity, one from whom others hide their faces” (Is 53:3).

But let us look more closely at that man crucified between earth and heaven. Let us contemplate him more intently, and we will realize that the cross is not the banner of the victory of death, sin and evil, but rather the luminous sign of love, of God’s immense love, of something that we could never have asked, imagined or expected: God bent down over us, he lowered himself, even to the darkest corner of our lives, in order to stretch out his hand and draw us to himself, to bring us all the way to himself. The cross speaks to us of the supreme love of God and invites, today, to renew our faith in the power of that love, and to believe that in every situation of our lives, our history and our world, God is able to vanquish death, sin and evil, and to give us new, risen life. In the Son of God’s death on the cross, we find the seed of new hope for life, like the seed which dies within the earth.

Aquino will risk censure

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Philippine President Benigno Aquino IIIMANILA, Philippines - Philippine President Benigno Aquino said he is willing to risk excommunication from the Catholic Church rather than scrap the so-called Responsible Parenthood Bill, reported UCA News.

“I remain committed to pushing for the introduction of a law for responsible parenthood ... at risk of excommunication, it is my obligation as a leader,” Aquino told graduates from the University of the Philippines. “In the end I must listen to my conscience and do what is right.”

He said he cannot stand by and watch the cycle of poverty continue as unplanned births spiral.

Church doesn't fear truth about Pius XII

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Pope Pius XII is pictured at the Vatican in a file photo dated March 15, 1949. (CNS file photo)NEW YORK - Addressing the continuing controversy over Pope Pius XII's actions during the Second World War, Archbishop Timothy Dolan expressed sympathy before a Jewish audience April 12 at researchers' "present frustration about the pace of opening the Vatican Archives" from that period.

"Whatever is needed to complete this project, even in phases rather than only as a whole, should be explored for its practicability," said the New York archbishop and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in an evening talk at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

"Whatever the archives hold, the Catholic Church does not fear the truth about the often heroic and sometimes disgraceful conduct of her leaders and members during the Second World War."

The archbishop, a trained historian who served as the bishops' liaison for Catholic-Jewish relations until November, said he sometimes hears questions about how the Church can consider both Pope Pius XII and Pope John Paul II as candidates for beatification. But, he said, "what constitutes holiness of life — that is to say, closeness to and friendship with God — is not measured in the same way as political, social or financial success.

Mexican bishop says priest abandoned parish after threats

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MEXICO CITY - A Mexican bishop said at least one priest has abandoned his parish in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, where the bodies of at least 122 abducted and murdered bus passengers have been pulled from mass graves within the first half of April.

Matamoros Bishop Faustino Armendariz Jimenez told reporters April 13 that at least one priest from a municipality near where the mass graves were discovered had fled after being threatened and subjected to harassment by presumed members of organized crime. He added that other priests have encountered difficulties travelling in the state, which is plagued by highway checkpoints manned by organized criminal groups such as Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel.

"We've had (incidents) at the armed checkpoints," Armendariz said in comments published by the newspaper El Universal. "Thanks to God, we're still here. Fortunately, nothing has happened, but we travel with fear."

Vatican concerned with deteriorating relations with China

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A Catholic woman prays during Mass at a church in Changzhi, Shanxi province, China. (CNS Photo/Reuters)VATICAN CITY - A Vatican commission on China expressed deep concern over worsening relations with the Chinese government and appealed to authorities there to avoid steps that would aggravate Church-state problems.

Specifically, the commission urged Chinese authorities not to persist in imposing new government-backed bishops who do not have the approval of Pope Benedict XVI.

Titled a "Message to Chinese Catholics," the text was issued April 14 following a three-day annual meeting of the commission at the Vatican.

The commission expressed joy at the news that the diocese of Shanghai was launching the beatification cause of Paul Xu Guangqi, a Chinese scholar who worked closely with the famed Jesuit missionary, Fr. Matteo Ricci, in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Holy confusion? Beatification, canonization are different

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Pope Benedict XVI celebrates the Eucharist during the canonization Mass for Brother Andre in October 2010. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)VATICAN CITY - The slight differences between a beatification and a canonization are easy to miss, especially when one pope beatifies another pope.

Just three weeks before Pope Benedict XVI was to beatify Pope John Paul II, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments issued a decree designed, in part, to maintain the distinction. The decree dealt with one of the three main differences: the number and location of dioceses that can hold annual public liturgical celebrations in the holy person's honour.

The other two differences are less noticeable and they deal with who ceremonially requests the Pope to act and the level of papal authority involved in the proclamation.

During a beatification ceremony, the bishop of the diocese where the person dies asks that the candidate be declared blessed; at a canonization, the prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes speaks in the name of the whole Church and asks that the candidate be declared a saint.

Protect rights, well-being of circus workers, animals, says Vatican

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2011 World Circus Day, celebrated April 16.VATICAN CITY - The rights of circus and carnival workers must be protected and circus animals must be properly cared for and treated ethically, said a top Vatican official.

Archbishop Antonio Veglio, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travellers, made the remarks in a message marking World Circus Day, celebrated April 16.

"The Church recognizes the social, cultural and educational value of circuses," which bring children and families together, spark people's imagination and foster creativity, he said in a message released April 15.

Carnivals and circuses offer special opportunities for people to break out of their shell, be awed by the beauty of the shows and the skills of the artists and acrobats, and be filled with "hope that brings inner peace even amid the suffering, worries and frustrations in life," he wrote.

Oct. 22 to be John Paul II’s feast day

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The Polish pope, who died April 2, 2005, will be beatified May 1. (CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo)VATICAN CITY - The feast day of Blessed John Paul II will be marked Oct. 22 each year in Rome and the dioceses of Poland.

When the Vatican made the announcement April 11, it also said Catholics throughout the world will have a year to celebrate a Mass in thanksgiving for his beatification. While thanksgiving Masses for a beatification — like the observance of a feast day — usually are limited to places where the person lived or worked, “the exceptional character of the beatification of the Venerable John Paul II, recognized by the entire Catholic Church spread throughout the world,” led to a general permission for the thanksgiving Mass, said a decree from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

The decree was published in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, and included information about the thanksgiving Mass, Pope John Paul’s feast day, annual Masses in his honour and naming churches after him. The newspaper also published the text of the opening prayer — formally the “collect” — for his feast day Mass in Latin, English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Polish.

New 'boat people' put Church teaching to the test

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Migrants from North Africa arrive by boat, escorted by two members of an Italian security force, at the southern Italian island of Lampedusa March 14. More than 22,000 refugees, many fleeing political unrest in Tunisia and Libya, have arrived on the tiny island since January. (CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters)VATICAN CITY — The new flow of North African immigrants into Italy is putting the Vatican's teaching on immigration to the test.

More than 22,000 "boat people," many fleeing political unrest in Tunisia and Libya, have arrived on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa this year. The fighting in Libya has spurred more people to flee in recent days. Not all survive the trip. About 150 people drowned April 6 when a migrant boat capsized in rough seas.

Church leaders have underlined the broad right to emigrate, the specific rights of refugees and the responsibility of wealthier nations to welcome those in need. But their moral advocacy has provoked criticism and even derision among some Italians, who have suggested that the Vatican and other religious institutions be the first to open their doors to the wave of immigrants.